by Renzo Costa
Since mid-September, 191 migrant prisoners have been on strike at Ontario’s Central East Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison. They are not only demanding better treatment, but also the granting of a fairer immigration policy.
There has been much controversy surrounding the fact that these detainees are incarcerated in maximum security prisons, even though many of them have not actually committed a criminal offence.
As reported by the Globe and Mail, “Detainees who cannot be deported, either because their home countries would not accept them or won’t issue travel documents, can end up in jail for months and years as they await a resolution to their case.”
In light of this, the “End Immigration Detention” movement is promoting a campaign advocating for a fairer, more just treatment of these migrants. According to the My Kawartha newspaper, “The detainees and their supporters are calling for an end to the maximum security detention in provincial jails for migrants; and a limit of 90 days that migrants can be held in detention pending deportation as per international law.”
Earlier this year, Immigration and Citizenship Canada, on their website, released a news piece outlining a new act. According to the website, “Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney welcomed the final passage and Royal Assent of The Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, which speeds up the removal of dangerous foreign criminals from Canada.”
Kenney declared that “this new law will keep Canadians safer by ending endless appeals and loopholes that were being used by dangerous foreign criminals to delay their deportation, during which time many committed more crimes.”
The effect this act has on migrant detainees depends upon the definition of “dangerous foreign criminals” as declared by the Canadian government.
The detainees and their supporters claim that the government has acted unlawfully in many cases. They allege that many migrants who have not committed a serious criminal offence are held in maximum security prisons where they receive horrible treatment.
The No One is Illegal (NOII) organization in Toronto argues that, although immigrants are portrayed as security threats, only a minority is detained on such allegations. They add that 94.2 percent of refugees are detained for reasons completely unrelated to security.
NOII published a series of facts about the migrant detainees’ situation. According to the organization, “Between 2004 and 2011, 82,000 people were locked up in immigration detention. At least another 13,000 have been imprisoned since 2011. In addition, 289 of the detainees were children, many of them under the age of 10.”
NOII argues that over 35 percent of detainees are held in maximum security provincial prisons, some unable to leave their cells for 18 hours a day. Furthermore, the number of migrants held in regular prisons is most likely going to grow after the implementation of the C-31 Bill, since there has not been a significant amplification of Immigration Holding Centers.
Another important issue is the fact that some of these detention centers are run in partnership with private companies such as G4S, Garda and Corbel Management Corporation.
NOII reports that, in Toronto alone, G4S and Corbel Management were paid $19 million between 2004 and 2008.
Private contractors have been accused of human rights violations in the past, and they are not as accountable as a national government would be. Furthermore, is it morally and ethically acceptable to make profits off incarcerating people?
Migrants, like Canadian citizens, should be granted a fair and just treatment in accordance with their actions.
In any case, minor criminal offences, and certainly the inability to be deported for reasons external to the individual, should not be punished with time in a maximum security prison.
Some of the changes these migrants are calling for and demanding are a transparent management of these issues, and holding the Harper government more accountable for its actions.
It could be argued that the demands for transparency and accountability have been a leitmotif of the Harper administration. Regarding a variety of issues, ranging from environmental research shut downs, to reductions in social welfare, the Harper administration seems to be crossing the authoritarian line.
Transparency and accountability are two of the most important attributes of a functional democracy. It seems as if the current Canadian government is undermining itself and its probabilities for another term in office, as the Canadian public is being made more aware of the transgressions currently taking place.